Plastic bags, the super thin disposable items that are typically used for a few minutes and then dumped at a landfill site to degrade for the next hundreds of years, have been a subject of numerous heated debates in the westernized world.
While some governments are arguing whether to introduce new recycling programs or to simply ban the use of plastic bags all together, others have been testing the approaches for quite a number of years now.
California is one of these places, where a new recycling system has been in place since 2006. The key issue here, however, is that no one is entirely certain if the new regulations really work, simply because no statistics indicate how many bags exactly have been recycled.
Since the law on recycling of plastic bags was introduced in California, the Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery has been collecting data to assess whether the program can be considered successful. A recent report by the Associated Press, however, revealed that these data have not been analyzed since 2009.
The numbers were there, showing that since 2008, there has been almost 50% drop in sales of plastic bags– from 107.4 million in 2008 down to 62.3 million in 2012. The department also confirmed that in 2012, 27 million plastic bags have been returned for recycling.
However, nothing indicates how many bags have actually been recycled, simply because the totals submitted by stores do not only include bags, but also other materials, and if the retailers do not specifically indicate how much of this is bags, then it is simply impossible to draw conclusions. In their defense, the recycling department stated that they do not have enough resources to fund such detailed analysis.
Certainly, it would help if such details were available, if for no other reason at least for other states or countries to use them as a guideline. Some have already decided to simply put a ban on the use of plastic bags, Los Angeles being the first to introduce it as from January next year. A possible reasoning behind this is the use of energy during the recycling process.
But the numbers that indicate whether the recycling program has been successful or not would have come quite handy to the European Commission. Just earlier this month, the EC initiated a debate over the introduction of various measures to reduce the use of thin plastic bags and minimize future environmental damage. It is currently under discussion whether member states should individually decide on banning plastic bags or introducing recycling practices.